Turns out they are partially, but I have to say I've been finding content marketing quite a murky area that's hard to fathom. I'm full of admiration for exciting start-ups that want to tap into the power of content marketing, but I have two significant questions. Where does the stuff really go, for free? When SEO gains are being offered, and the content has been willingly accepted free of charge, what's the catch? For a site to take content for free, the author has to be either a voice that people want to hear from or the site doesn't have much content in the first place.
With a leading voice, the obvious presumption is that we're either talking about a celebrity, or more likely, someone who is respected within their field. If so, that's great, but why the need for an agency to pitch it in and craft the article? Opinion pieces have been run for decades without the need of a middle person. In fact, the middle person makes the process harder because they invariably hire a writer who is often not allowed to speak to the person whose opinion they are portraying for fear the client might go direct to the writer in future. I kid you not. You actually do sometimes find situations where someone is expected to turn a couple of lines of thoughts in an email into an opinion piece which a respected site is going to publish. Unless writers are mind readers, that's never going to work.
Let's ponder the site which has little content itself and is happy to receive submissions. Tell me seriously, would your clients really consider this as a coup to be a on a site that can't have many readers and relies on submissions to make a few pennies here and there out of advertising?
So what's my point in raking this all up? Well, my experiences and observations are that a lot of brands that want to spread their wings beyond display and get in to content are being sold an impossible dream. There really are very few quality sites out there waiting to take your content for free. There are some -- typically a respected b2b publication in the brand's industry -- but to my earlier point, if you're that much of an authority it's unlikely you need to go via a content agency and their writer. If that site wants to hear what you say, a direct approach from either side is the most likely route to publication.
Which brings me on the secondary point. Just as brands were sold a bit of a fib that social was free and are now having to adjust to the reality that it's a media channel like any other, I think we're soon going to find the same with content.
If you want your views out there, if you want to get a message about your products and services, then why would you not expect to pay? Sure, you can wait to be interviewed by a reputable site but if you want to take control of the process and actually get your own or your brand's messaging out there, then I can assure you of one thing. If you take the leap and understand this is going to mean some native content has to be paid for, you will save yourself a world of pain later on down the line when the sites your content agency were going to for free don't seem all that familiar and haven't seemed to encouraged engagement around your key audience.
I'm not saying there aren't a wealth of free content sources to approach to place quality content -- this site is one of them -- but ultimately if you want to build scale and pick and choose the quality publications where your name can mingle with the headlines, you're going to have to get involved with native. Finding the right mix is something every brand is going to have to do for itself but, I can assure you, relying solely on free content placements and then expecting both a SEO boost and heightened awareness and engagement is unrealistic.
There's never been a time for content marketers to be clear on this, so brands can set about getting the blend right between free content, aimed at SEO, and native, with the hook of engagement and brand-building.
Brands have been sold a fib about free distribution from social media and have had to face up to the reality. I really think they need to be shown how the same is true of content.